June 12th, 2024

Hat’s elected officials relatively mum on Bill 20 to date

By Collin Gallant on May 24, 2024.

Aside from Coun. Andy McGrogan, the city's elected officials, including the mayor, are shying away from making comment about the province's legislation that gives it added power over municipal jurisdiction.--NEWS FILE PHOTO

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The issue of sweeping changes to municipal governance legislation hasn’t been discussed by Medicine Hat city council one month after Bill 20 was outlined and is now set to move to legislature committee for study.

It would change local elections and municipal government acts to allow political parties at local level in major cities, change political contribution limits and also give the province potential veto power over local decisions.

When introduced, Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver said it would give the provincial cabinet power to alter or rescind local bylaws and more easily remove councillors “when in the public interest.”

Amendments tabled late Thursday would allow cabinet to force a local vote on a council member’s fate and lay out a process by which cabinet could challenge local bylaws that are “contrary to provincial policy.”

Alberta Municipalities, the Rural Municipalities of Alberta and a number of individual local councillors from across the province have spoken out about the bill.

Earlier this month, the County of Newell voted to officially oppose the changes in a letter to McIver and Premier Danielle Smith, who is also the local MLA.

In Medicine Hat, Mayor Linnsie Clark declined to give her thoughts on the bill in early May during a local event with Smith, and again this week declined a chance to comment.

Only Coun. Andy McGrogan spoke out against the bill earlier this month, and is set to speak again on Saturday to a group of Hatters looking for wider debate of provincial political issues.

“It’s unfortunate,” said McGrogan, who said the issue hasn’t been formally dealt with by council during a busy spring, but he would attempt to raise the issue at their next meeting on June 3.

“(Council members) have corresponded back and forth about it, but it hasn’t been discussed in an open or closed meeting,” he said. “(This weekend), I’ll be sharing information about the bill, but it’s my opinion because council hasn’t discussed it. It’s along the same lines as Alberta Municipalities.”

That group lobbies on behalf of urban municipalities and has said the bill goes far beyond what has been previously discussed in proposals to amend local authorities’ legislation, and it should be scrapped entirely.

The RMA, representing counties and municipal districts, suggests members call for widespread consultation and major amendments – a stance endorsed by the County of Newell at its May 9 meeting.

“This is a really mild reply from RMA, compared to what I’ve heard on stage (at RMA events) … so as strong as we want to word it, let it rip,” said Newell Coun. Neil Johnson during discussion of the signing onto a form letter from RMA. “There’s extreme opposition.”

Reeve Arno Doerksen and the rest of council agreed that a strong statement needed to be made but agreed to the toned-down position

“There will be days when this will be uncomfortable for municipalities that deal with local issues and another level of government,” he concluded. “Those are the things we need to caution against.”

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